THE BITTER TEARS OF PETRA VON KANT, 1972
Cast: Margit Carstensen, Hanna Schygulla, Katrin Schaake, Eva Mattes, Gisela Fackeldey, Irm Herman
Petra von Kant is a successful fashion designer -- arrogant, caustic, and self-satisfied. She mistreats Marlene (her secretary, maid, and co-designer). Enter Karin, a 23-year-old beauty who wants to be a model. Petra falls in love with Karin and invites her to move in. The rest of the film deals with the emotions of this affair and its aftermath. Fassbinder tells his story in a series of 5 or 6 long scenes with extended uses of a single camera shot and deep focus.
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In the quiet, but devastating film of "The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant." Fassbinder shows us the changing dynamic in relationships of multiple women; Petra Von Kant (fashion designer), Marlene (her assistant), her cousin Sidonee, and her cousin's friend Karin.
It is clear that these relationships have a very stable definition, but within these definitions is a stable VERY awkward tension through out all of these dynamics. Petra Von Kant plays the most self-depreciating role in the film, she always sees herself as the victim that isn't worthy of love. This of course, takes a toll on the love interest we see in the film, Karin. Like an itch that you scratch for entirely too long, Petra's pessimism overwhelms Karin.
The film is based off of a play that Fassbinder wrote himself, however it stays very true to the theatrical setting. It is shot entirely within the confines of Petra's apartment. In Petra's bedroom, we see it is very gaudy and lavishly decorated, but in her work space, it is very bleak and sparse. Fassbinder is not exactly subtle with this idea as well... (with Poussin's painting "Midas and Bacchus" on her bedroom wall, and naked mannequins and colors that only express that varying gray scale.
Marlene is a character who is always shown at a distance. But with very dramatic, emphatic lighting. She is in the background longing for something. We assume that she is longing for Petra's affection, but we can never be to sure. Marlene's the character that I had the most emotional resonance with, the power of her face and the shots employed by Fassbinder speak volumes to the viewers. What is she constantly in desire of? What is her motivation? This is an intentional mystery.
Karin's character is one that is genuine with Petra from thebeginning, but gets quickly annoyed with the depression and general malaise of Petra's life. Karin likes the idea of Petra because she is young and wants to gain experience. I believe that Petra's love of Karin is genuine, but she falls into the self-depreciating trap and eventually shuts down and pushes her away.
This film is a character study at its heart, the fact that it isactually conveyed as a film doesn't change the the initial story.However the emphasis on lighting techniques really showcase howpowerful emotions can be conveyed extremely effectively.